Mabel Annie Fielding was born on 1 July 1902 at Pleasant Point, Canterbury, the youngest of the seven children of Frederick Fielding, a farmer, and his wife, Mary Davis, both immigrants from Britain. After Frederick was killed in an accident when Mabel was five, the family moved to Timaru, where her mother worked as a cleaner to support them all. Mabel was educated at Timaru Main School and Timaru Technical College.
On leaving school she worked as a post office telephonist until her marriage in Timaru on 11 December 1922 to David Harold Newlands, a carpenter, whom she had met while appearing in an amateur production of a Gilbert and Sullivan opera. The couple had two sons and a daughter. During the Second World War Mabel was a member of the Women’s War Service Auxiliary and served on its central executive and as an instructor in the signals corps. Her son, David, was missing in action in the Solomon Islands from December 1942. After the war the Newlandses discovered that he had been in a Japanese prisoner of war camp from which he had disappeared without trace.
Mabel Newlands had a long and active involvement with the New Zealand Labour Party. She worked diligently during the election campaigns of the Timaru MP, Clyde Carr, and she founded the Timaru women’s branch of the party, serving as president for its first five years. She was also an executive member of the local Labour Representation Committee and in 1946 was the first woman to be elected president of a divisional council of the party. It was at this time that she decided to call herself Ann. She stood in 1946 in the Ashburton electorate, but did not do well (the sitting MP increased his majority).
Her work for the Labour Party was rewarded when she was appointed a member of the New Zealand delegation to the United Nations General Assembly negotiations in Paris in September 1948. These negotiations resulted in the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A draft declaration had been worked out by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt, and submitted to member governments in 1947 for comment. In New Zealand a special human rights committee established by Prime Minister Peter Fraser examined the proposals, and its report formed the basis of the government’s comments to the commission. The draft declaration was debated over three months in Paris in 1948. Newlands and Colin Aikman presented the New Zealand case in the Third Committee’s examination of the draft. Newlands later wrote a series of articles for the Timaru Herald that paint a picture of the social activities surrounding the negotiations.
In 1947 Newlands was elected to the South Canterbury Hospital Board. She failed to be re-elected in 1950, but rejoined in 1952 as an appointee of the Timaru City Council following the death of a member. She served until her retirement in 1962. Her other community activities included 25 years as the secretary of the local branch of the New Zealand Baptist Women’s Missionary Union, membership of the Timaru state housing allocation committee, and foundation membership of the Marriage Guidance Council Timaru. She was also a justice of the peace.
Ann and David Newlands retired in 1968 to Stephens Bay, near Motueka. David died in 1973 and Ann later moved to Wellington, where she died on 13 February 1983. A small, vivacious and outgoing woman, her decision to become involved in public life was influenced by the hard times she and her husband faced during the depression of the 1930s. The time she spent in Paris in 1948 was the highlight of her public life; everything else, she sometimes said, was something of an anticlimax.